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Medium (un)specificity as material agency – the productive indeterminacy of matter/material

This article developed out of a paper that I was invited to present at The Matter of Material conference convened by Professor Lesley Millar MBE, Director of the International Textile Research Centre and Professor of Textile Culture at the University for the Creative Arts.

In this article, I consider some of the debates brought to the fore by the proliferation of recent textile focused exhibitions; namely the tension between a continued allegiance to medium specific conventions and the richness, hybridity and heterogeneity afforded by the post-medium condition of contemporary art.

The paper focuses on a new body of sculptural and installational practice conducted over the course of my doctoral research which draws its initial stimulus from the everyday conventions of textile and takes the form of a of a quasi-taxonomy of ‘thingly’ sculptural components which can be variously configured and reconfigured within a series of staged mises-en-scène. Through this new body of work, I propose a ‘constellatory opening up of textile’ in which the medium specific can be (re)mapped in a fluid and fragmentary way. Drawing particular reference from Adorno’s conception of the constellation and mimetic comportment, this model of practice involves a mode of behaviour that actively opens up to alterity and heterogeneity and welcomes the affective indeterminacy of the sensuously bound experiential encounter. This is manifest through a range of practice strategies - ‘thingness’, ‘staged (dis)contiguity’, and the play between ‘sensuous immediacy and corporeal containment’ - which aim to mobilise a precarious embodied experience that simultaneously provides a sense of aesthetic connectivity and continuity, whilst in resisting conceptual synthesis, has the potential to destabilise and undermine subjective coherence.

Acknowledging the socio-political critical currency afforded to textile through feminist and poststructuralist critique - a methodology adopted in my earlier work - this new work takes a much more affective and affirmative approach. Moving away from textile’s historical rhetoric of negative opposition and conventional predetermined contexts, the work is distinctive in returning authority to the aesthetic impulse, privileging the ambiguous resonances of an abstract sculptural language over more overt strategies of representation.

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